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BOE chief pitches ads on campus

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In a bid to raise revenue for cash-strapped schools, the Board of Education is revisiting proposed changes to its advertising policy that would allow companies to buy sign space on campuses.

The ads would not market specific products, but instead promote positive messages — healthy eating or good study habits, for instance — while displaying corporate logos.

A similar idea in 2005 was quickly quashed by opponents, who said schools should be free of commercialism. They said allowing even limited advertising on campus would set a dangerous precedent.

Board Chairman Garrett Toguchi now says it’s time to take another look at ads on school grounds given the difficult fiscal climate.

Proposed changes to the "commercialism" policy for schools were approved by a BOE committee last week and could go the full board later this month.

"Schools have already imposed all kinds of drastic cuts to save money," Toguchi said in a memo to board members. "From schools choosing to cancel field trips to the downsizing in athletics to parents having to purchase hand soap and paper towels for their child’s classroom, these needs are real and schools needs alternative ways to (move) … into the 21st century."

Toguchi, who also proposed the changes in 2005, said the Department of Education has weathered several years of funding cuts and is facing deeper budget reductions in the coming fiscal year. This year alone, Toguchi pointed out, the DOE has had to slash $2 million in spending for science textbooks and $400,000 for student athletic equipment.

Some states are turning to the advertising option, allowing ads on everything from gym walls to lockers to school websites.

Mary Steiner, chief executive officer of the Outdoor Circle, warned that the Board of Education’s proposed advertising changes could "open the barn door" to all sorts of commercialism on school campuses.

"A lot of things get done when the economy is bad that we tend to regret after the fact," she said.

The policy could also run afoul of state laws on commercial signage, said Bob Loy, director of environmental programs at the Outdoor Circle.

Loy questioned why the elected board is taking up the issue when members know they’ll soon be replaced by an appointed board.

The proposed policy would allow advertising on building walls or other areas on campuses, but not in classrooms.

Toguchi said an example of a permissible ad would be an exercise campaign sponsored by a health insurer or a "study hard" poster sponsored by a computer manufacturer. He said opponents of more advertising argue it would "brainwash kids." The ads with such messages, Toguchi said, "are brainwashing of good behavior."

Rylan Yee, the parent of a Castle High School senior, said he would need a lot of questions answered about the proposed policy changes before he would support it.

"It would be nice if the school remained away from commercialism. That’s my gut reaction," said Yee, who is on Castle’s School Community Council. "On the other hand, I can understand that schools could certainly use the revenue. Big time."

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